Of Pudge, Pronk and the Nolan Ryan Jinx
Catching has not been a problem for the Rangers of late because of Rod Barajas and Gerald Laird but even four years later is is hard to watch Ivan Rodriguez playing for another team.
The memory gets less clear year after year but still remember in the middle of the 2002 season a Rangers official telling me that Pudge was "done" as a full-time catcher. He’d had a herniated disk in his back that season and missed six weeks, although he still hit .314 that season.
But the payroll was bloated and Rafael Palmeiro had warned me that spring that if Chan Ho Park didn’t get the job done and the Rangers didn’t win then Rodriguez would be gone.
So he was as the Rangers did not offer arbitration and owner Tom Hicks, who was losing tons of money, blamed "the system" but we now know that Rodriguez was far from done as he was dancing on the field at Yankee Stadium the following October as the Florida Marlins won the World Series.
Instead the Rangers traded for Einar Diaz, who would play with his "hair on fire" and, of course, do a better job of handling the pitchers, which of course nobody thought Rodriguez could do. But Josh Beckett and Brad Penny seemed to do fine with him behind the plate as well as Detroit’s top-of-the-league pitching staff.
Of course the Rangers gave up Travis "Pronk" Hafner in the deal to get Diaz. But nobody balked at the time because the Rangers were loaded with offense, Palmeiro, Juan Gonzalez and Carl Everett and Mark Teixeira and Hank Blalock on their way, and Kevin Mench already becoming everybody’s favorite huggable, loveable indispensable player. Jason Jones and Ryan Ludwick figure in this somehow too but let’s not go overboard.
The Rangers didn’t even need Frank Catalanotti or Mike Lamb so they were sent packing as well. At least they eventually turned Carl Everett into Frank Francisco and Josh Rupe in a trade with the White Sox.
Craig Monroe? He was put on waivers after the 2001 season after the Rangers had signed Gonzalez and if anybody says they saw Monroe developing into a front-line, 25-homer, 90 RBI then they are full of….baloney. Any suggestions of trading Mench for Monroe would have been dismissed immediately.
But offense has not been the issue, the Rangers can live without Hafner the same way they did without Sammy Sosa if they can fix the pitching, and a good pitching staff could probably ease the pain of losing a Hall of Fame catcher as well.
It was always a mystery to me that the Rangers figured that since Chan Ho Park had averaged 15 wins a season for five years was worth $65 million and Rick Helling, who had done the same for four years, was worth discarding. But Alex Rodriguez assured me that Park had "nasty stuff" and better than Helling, an opinion he later admitted was dead wrong.
He also kept telling me the Rangers should go after David Ortiz too, so he wasn’t always wrong. But the Twins let Ortiz go after the 2002 season, that’s when the Red Sox signed him and the Rangers still had no more room for a designated hitter than they did for Hafner.
They still had Palmeiro, remember, although if the Rangers sign Ortiz and let Teixeira spend 2003 in Triple A then…..
Then they still need pitching. But the best trade made was giving pitching away, sending Esteban Loaiza to the Toronto Blue Jays for Michael Young, and the highest draft pick they’ve had in 20 years was used to take not pitching but Mark Teixeira.
Whatever happened to Colby Lewis anyway? He didn’t win the Rangers Nolan Ryan Minor League Pitcher of the Year award but Jovanny Cedeno, Ryan Dittfurth, Ben Kozlowski and Juan Dominguez all did and none are still with the Rangers.
That’s why they say the award is jinxed and of course that’s just plain stupidity but Bryan Corey did have an 0.60 ERA in 12 games for Triple-A Oklahoma.
Wouldn’t he have been a more worthy recipient than Eric Hurley. Why mess with mysterious forces when you’re pitching staff needs all the help it can get.
Of course it was 28 years ago when the Rangers traded Dave Righetti to the New York Yankees and next Spring will be the 25th anniversary of Ron Darling and Walt Terrell to the Mets for Lee Mazzilli.
It was after hearing of that disasterous trade that Rangers farm directorJoe Klein, conducting a Minor League meeting, uttered those immortal words that pretty much sum up everything.
Said Klein, "Gentlemen this meeting is over, we’re going to the bar."